The Ease of Being You

He listens to the music with a blissful look on his face, arms going “round and round,” feet dancing in circles. He’s just a two-year-old in a diaper, but for the self-assurance he displays, he could be the president ( I dare you to catch the president dancing around in a diaper to “The Wheels on the Bus”!).

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Yes, he knows how to take a selfie already. #momfail

I learn something new from JQ every day. His insistence on doing things by himself even when he’s only going to fail (do, Mommy), his patience when he has to repeat himself five times and we still don’t understand what he’s saying, the ease with which he greets people, and the quickness with which he comforts a crying baby. Basically, he’s the person I always wanted to be but wasn’t.

To someone who’s been afraid of everybody her whole life, always second-guessing everything I do and say (and feeling awkward regardless), this utter lack of self-consciousness is mostly only something I dream of having. I’m pretty sure I was terrified of people even when I was two.

This kid, though? I’m pretty sure he escaped the awkward-introvert-who-can’t-think-of-small-talk gene.  He makes friends wherever he goes–with old ladies on the bus, kids on the playground, and anyone who will smile at him on the train. Sure, he doesn’t like creepy old men who stop and pinch his cheeks or try to get him to come with them (just, why?), but then, who does?

Someone once said to me that they thought Christians could only be extroverts–that people who are quieter or find it difficult to talk to people should change their behavior to always be outgoing and friendly, ready to talk to anyone at any time. I’ve thought about this comment a lot over the years: do I need to change who I am (I’ve tried, and so has my mother), and even the way I look at the world? Was I created wrong? Ungodly?

And as I’ve thought about this, the more I think it’s wrong. Yes, it’s decidedly more socially acceptable to be the friendly chatterbox who loves being around people ALL THE TIME. But socially acceptable doesn’t mean it’s the way things have to be. It doesn’t mean that my gifts don’t matter. It doesn’t mean that every Christian has to be your neighborhood joy-exuding person who never met a stranger. If everyone was a chatterbox, who would shut up and listen to them?

As I’ve grown older, I’ve stopped worrying so much about what I have or don’t have and wishing I was different. Now, I focus on what I can do and do it the best I can. Turns out I can talk just fine as long as I know what I’m talking about (though I still don’t like small talk and just sit there in awkward silence most of the time).

So what I’ve learned from JQ? Live life with exuberance and joy, not always wishing for something you don’t have or to be someone you aren’t. I’m not any less of a person because I hate going up to someone just to say hi. And if you’re the neighborhood joy-exuding person? Hooray! The world needs you too.

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A Lonely Merry Christmas

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Lonely baby


It turns out Facebook is not a good substitute for face to face interaction. Who knew?

It’s bad enough on the usual days of the year: people post pictures of their cool adventures with friends and family (guilty!), all the fun things their kids do, and maybe occasionally the five dishes in their sink that they need to do (“I’m such a bad housekeeper!). But on Christmas Day, of all times, it’s even more apparent. Everyone posts pictures of their lights, their trees, their snow, their families: everyone has a place to go for Christmas.

Except us. We’re just here, preparing to move out of our house in twelve days. Instead of getting presents, we’re purging. Instead of celebrating with family or friends, we’re all alone. Yes, unlike the Virgin Mary who had no refuge but a stable for the birth of her Son, we have a solid house and cozy beds (and air-conditioning). Also unlike the Virgin Mary, we have no visitors to bring gifts and celebrate with us that Christ is born.

In previous years, Christmas has been a season of finding light in the darkness. This year, for us it has a different focus. Just as Jesus was born in an unfamiliar manger in a strange town, we’re in a strange country surrounded by strangers. There’s much to be said about the comforts of home–but surely there’s a point in wandering, too?

For years after Christ’s birth, Mary and Joseph wandered, seeking refuge from an unstable king who wished to kill their Son. For years, Christmas brought to them not warm fuzzies and cozy feelings about how great humanity is, but running–for the good of the world.

Today, instead of singing saccharine songs about the “most wonderful time of the year” mixed in with odes to winter and expecting everyone to be wonderful and happy because Christmas, we’re singing “Wayfaring Stranger” and living it too. In this way, we are like the holy family: we are recognizing there is more to life–more to Christmas–than thinking about ourselves or all the good things it can bring out in people.

Christmas brings a message of hope, of peace on earth and goodwill to men. It brings assurance that these things exist, that they are possible. But it also reminds us they are, for now, not realized yet. First there’s the waiting, then the running and hiding, then–finally–the heaven that Christmas promises to bring.

Christmas is not heaven. But it will be. All our waitings and wanderings will, one day, bring us home. And then we won’t be wayfaring strangers.

Coming Home

It’s that time of year again: we’re moving soon. But this time we won’t be going to any exotic or far-away place. Instead, we’ll be moving back home to Colorado (just for a year, of course: how could we stay somewhere longer than a year?!).

After Singapore, Colorado almost seems exotic. Snow? And mountains? And seasons? And no HDB buildings as far as the eye can see?
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Today it feels like as soon as we begin to settle in to a place, our routines become more comfortable, and we move out of survival mode into oh-yeah-I-can-actually-do-things mode, we move. And while this is one move I’m glad to make (sorry, Singapore, I don’t love you), it’s still tearing up roots and going through a big adjustment yet again. For the sixth time in almost five years. And that sounds crazy. No wonder I’ve been mainly hiding in my house for the last several months.

And after months of mainly staying home and venturing out to the playground, I’ll have to learn how to interact with people again beyond the inanities of small talk. (“How do you like Singapore?” Answer: smile and nod, say “It’s…very hot.” If I’m in a generous mood, I may go so far as to say, “We enjoy swimming here,” or “It’s great to be able to get inexpensive fresh juice whenever you want it.” Seriously, how are you supposed to answer a question like that?)

But do I even know how to be a friend any more? Am I still an intelligent human being even though I’ve been dragged all over the world for the past few years, and now am poked and prodded to death every time I try to have a thought? (I’m hiding away while JQ takes a bubble bath–hiding, because he started fishing hairs out of somewhere from the bathtub and showing them to me, and then because he started painting me with bubbles. Let’s just say–not conducive to Deep Thoughts!)

I guess my worry is: I’ve changed so much. Have I grown away from being home? Or has “home” grown in the other direction so that neither of us will recognize the other?

Will I be that friend that regales others only with stories of eating fishballs and other delicacies? Or will I have no life outside of how wonderful (or obnoxious) my kid is? Will people even remember who I am since I’ve been gone for so long?

Silly worries aside, there are so many things to anticipate, like being close to family and friends (free babysitters for JQ!), good American food (dairy products! cheese! meat! no fishballs!), and seasons (cold weather! snow! wind! spring and fall!). Jared is looking forward to the library of books he has already ordered from Amazon–only thirty or forty books, he says nonchalantly– that is awaiting him in Colorado. I’m excited about introducing JQ to farm life with all its ways to keep small boys busy.

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So look out America: we’re coming for you!

JQ Is TWO!

Well, that went fast.
DSC_1242.jpg Two years ago, we were just getting to know a brand-new baby boy who didn’t do much else besides eat and sleep.

Now, he’s somehow morphed into this huge toddler who runs around, eats like a horse, and is starting to talk non-stop. We’ve been trying to teach him both English and Chinese (hah!) but didn’t really think he spent enough time around Chinese speakers to actually learn Chinese too. Except he’s been running around the house recently pointing at things and saying a word that doesn’t really sound like any English word. It took us a while to figure out what he was saying, but finally we decided he’s saying “zhege” (pronounced jei-ge, but which he says more like “ticka” or something), which means “this.” I guess maybe spending time with a bilingual Singaporean family is paying off? At least he can now say “I zhege” for everything he wants. Yeah, we’re raising a fabulous communicator.

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But, we can now figure out what he wants when he takes us to the food museum (a.k.a. the refrigerator) and points at something and says “I zhege.” Usually he wants one of his favorite foods–something like cheese, cheese fries, feta cheese, cheese sauce, macaroni and cheese, and did I mention cheese? If he doesn’t want one of the above, he’s usually asking for some kalamata olives or a drink. Lest you think he’s developing nutrient deficiencies on his cheese diet, he will eat other foods, like fruits and vegetables, and he always insists on getting bananas when we go to the grocery store. Unfortunately, he never eats said bananas so they always gather a crowd of fruit flies in about a day and then sit on the counter in a puddle of tears because they’re mourning about how hot it is. At least, that’s the only explanation I can come up with for why bananas die in a puddle of their own liquid two days after coming home from the grocery store. But I digress.

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Speaking of food, I have now watched enough food videos on Facebook with him for him to be convinced that all videos on Facebook are of delicious things. Usually, his assumption is correct, like when he watches a video of brownies or chicken fingers. But yesterday, his “Yum yum!” was a bit misplaced when a video of painting pumpkins came up. At least he’s not a picky eater?

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To counteract the bad effects of watching too many Facebook videos, JQ cooks with me too. He’s the key supervisor of making scrambled eggs in the morning, though he still has a bad habit of bursting into tears every time I put the eggs in the pan to cook, saying “I ‘tir, mommy, I ‘tir.”

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On the other side of his regular two-year-old boyness is the neat freak. If he spills something or gets food on his hands, he immediately says “uh-oh, mommy, uh-oh!” and runs to get a towel to clean it up.

Along with his cleaning powers is a built-in sense of empathy: whenever anyone is hurt or sad he’ll give them a big hug and then run to the bathroom to get tissues for their nose.

He has several stuffed animals (Frog, Puppy, Bear, Giraffe), and when he’s feeling extra sentimental about them, he runs into our bedroom and sets them on top of my pillow, where they’re not allowed to be moved.

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Happy birthday JQ! We’re so happy you’re part of our life (and can clean up all our messes).

September: A Month in the Life

I’m not quite sure where September went, actually, but apparently it will be October in a couple of days! In spite of missing all of September though, nothing much has happened, other than:

  1. I was a bit overconfident and am now teaching TWO online English classes to high schoolers in America. This means I have around forty students now. This also means I have to grade around forty assignments every week, while simultaneously trying to talk to the toddler. DSC_1100.jpgI used to think I could multitask, but now I’m not so sure! Of course, some things do get in the way of staring at the computer screen trying to think of some constructive comments that don’t sound EXACTLY like all the other comments I’ve written that day, like….
  2. taking JQ out to the playground every morning so we can get some moving time in (it’s so easy when you’re in the house to sit all.the.time even if you’re an active little two-year-old, and especially easy to just stare at screens while sitting). So we try to go outside most days except when it’s pouring rain, because I just don’t want to deal with the little drowned rat that would result from playing outside in a downpour.
  3. Speaking of rain, when we DO go outside in the rain, JQ is very insistent about taking along the umbrella (which he can’t say but thinks he can, so it comes out something like “brella,” but not exactly that intelligible.)  But he’s very proud of himself for being able to carry it while we walk.
  4. Usually Singaporeans are polite and nice to us (if a bit insistent on staying out of puddles and always wearing shoes), so yesterday at the playground when I noticed a random guy (he looked to be around 30) hanging out by the playground I didn’t think much of it. He was staring at his phone so I figured he was maybe checking his email or whatever–until he came up and starting asking random questions. They started off innocently enough: “How old is he?” “Where are you from?” but when he went from asking questions about JQ’s naptime and whether he eats food to asking how often he breastfeeds during the day, my weirdo alert went off. It didn’t help that he was following me around and kinda getting in my personal space. Anyways, JQ and I made a less-than-graceful exit of the screaming-toddler-who-doesn’t-want-to-leave variety, and now I definitely scan the playground for creepy weirdos before even venturing out of the house!
  5.  Bubbles! JQ has just discovered the magic that is bubbles. He runs around with his little bubble wand shouting “Bubble, bubble! Mama, bubble!” DSC_0925.jpgDSC_0909.jpgBubbles are also an automatic attraction for all the other kids at the playground. I guess the moral of the story is, everyone loves bubbles. Even as I’m writing this, he’s sitting here looking at his pictures, saying “Bubbles!”
  6. Some days (most days), living life with a toddler feels like living on top of a mountain of unfinished projects. I start grading papers, then two minutes later have to get JQ a drink. Sit back down, and he wants me to read him a story. At the end of an hour, I’ll have spent lots of time with JQ, but not much time with my grading!
  7. To counteract this never-ending-job-list effect, I’ve been trying to at least wash the dishes every day and keep the house picked up so SOMETHING is getting done. I’m proud of myself too! And we’re even managing to get laundry done fairly regularly (a MUST because it gets so stinky so fast in this humidity that soon we have nothing to wear). And with that I’ll leave you with an ugly picture of me doing laundry next to a sink full of dishes. Because everyone cares about my housework.

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Happy Birthday to Me

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On birthdays there should be Big Thoughts. You should of course ruminate on how old (or not) you feel, how much more mature (or not) you could be, how you’ve failed in your aspirations for the last x amount of years, how you’ve completed your aspirations in the last amount of years, what you hope to accomplish in your next however many years. (I’m afraid my Dickens is showing–forgive me!)  But on my most recent birthday, I accomplished few Big Thoughts.

I did, however, manage to make a cake in our new (much larger! so nice!) toaster oven that is actually big enough to bake something in without the top burning long before anything else is even warm.
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And while it almost melted in the Singapore heat in spite of being stored in the freezer whenever it was not being built, it tasted great. Although anything with four layers of homemade lemon curd covered in lemon cream cheese frosting would probably taste great anyways.

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Did I ever imagine that when I was 25 my main accomplishments would consist of making a cake for my birthday and not getting mad at the baby (and doing dishes, of course–one can always do more dishes)? I don’t really know. I’m not one of those people (like Jared) who was born ambitious. When I was ten I had a breakdown when I had to write an assignment about what I wanted to be when I grew up, because I had no ambitions to be anything! (I finally settled on teacher as the least bad option…and now I’m a teacher. So maybe 10-year-old me knew something after all?)

What I’d like to think is that one doesn’t have to accomplish great things for life to matter. I try to comfort Jared with this platitude when he’s feeling especially down after only reading one million books instead of stopping wars or advising world leaders; somehow he doesn’t particularly appreciate it.

But I think of it this way–if everyone was busy doing great things, who would have time to stop and comfort the baby, or to make a lemon cake for all to enjoy, or to teach English to small children? Who would be involved in the business of helping the little ones become great?

We need great men and women. But we also need the homely sorts, the ones who contribute the less obvious comforts, like lemon cake. So even though I’ve accomplished little to speak of in my life these past twenty-six years, I think I may have contributed some good to the world in spite of myself.

 

 

 

Why I’m Glad I Don’t Have a Dryer

I just realized today that I’ve never told you  about our laundry situation in all the various countries we’ve lived in. Have you ever been missing out!

For the past three years, we haven’t had a dryer. And for the most part it’s been ok. It was a little hard in London when we only had a teeny tiny flat and it took clothes two days to dry because cold and damp weather is not the greatest for laundry drying (and also a significant reason we didn’t cloth diaper exclusively!), but really, in a family this size, it’s pretty easy to go without a dryer. Of course, when I was growing up we hung laundry on the line and I felt like it took all day. Probably because with 12 people in a house, there’s always more laundry to hang. But here, I actually kind of like it. Here’s why.

    1. I’m lazy and if I had a dryer clothes would sit in it for days and then they’re all wrinkly and gross. So much better to just get it over with all at once.
    2. It eliminates the step of putting your clothes in the dryer, taking them out, and then folding them. I do exactly none of those steps.
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Don’t your towels have feet?
  • When you hang up your clothes as soon as the washing machine is done, all you have to do when they’re actually dry is move the hangers to your closet. That’s it. No extra hanging, no folding, no wrinkly messes that sit in the dryer for a week.DSC_0474
    • Even matching socks is easier. Of course, that could be because only one person in this house currently wears socks. The rest of us (me, and by extension JQ) can’t stand having sweaty feet on top of (underneath?) sweaty everything else and so we either go barefoot or put on sandals when the looks of disapproval and the questions become too much. But still–no dryer to eat your socks? It’s a win.
    • If you can dry your clothes outside, they will smell like you’ve dried them outside, which, in my opinion, is a nice smell for clothes to have. I’ve never been able to stand the reek of fabric softener and fake smells. If, on the other hand, you live in a small flat in London and only have a bathroom to dry them in….well, they will probably smell like mildew and you’ll go around wondering who’s bringing that weird smell with them. Don’t worry–it’s just you.

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    • It keeps you on top of your laundry. There’s nothing quick about hanging your clothes to dry, so if you know you’re almost out of clean towels or shirts or socks, you have to do laundry that very minute so it can be dry in 24 hours when you actually need it. I start getting complacent when I have a dryer around, because it only takes 4 hours or so for the clothes to be ready to wear again. But it’s really a lot better for my sanity (and Jared’s) to get the clothes washed a day or two in advance of when I REALLY need them so that we actually have clean laundry.
    • On the other hand, it’s kind of annoying, when you only have one blanket for your bed, to have to wash it first thing in the morning so it can be MOSTLY dry by the evening. I suppose I could overcome my cheapskate tendencies and, you know, actually buy another blanket, but SPENDING MONEY ON NONESSENTIAL ITEMS (i.e. not food)!

    And that’s why, in spite of having lived without a dryer for the better part of the last three years, I’m actually kind of happy that I have. Sure, a dryer is awfully convenient, but it’s better for me as a person to actually plan and act on things I know I have to do. Sometimes convenience can be sneaky and look like a friend, but often it’s actually the enemy.

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JQ: 17 Months

So this little man is already 17 months old, and I can’t believe how fast the time is going.

I’ve been kind of hesitant to write a post about him, since I can’t imagine that very many people (with the exception of his relatives, who do probably make up a good 50% of my readership) are that interested in knowing that yet another baby is doing cute things with the portion of his time that isn’t spent doing annoying things.

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Now forgive me, since I might be biased, but a lot of the things he does are awfully cute. He definitely doesn’t suffer from a lack of self-esteem either–anytime he does anything “remarkable,” like pushing a button and turning something on, he claps for himself with a self-satisfied smile.

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He loves figuring out how things work, and especially loves taking things apart. One of his favorite pastimes is taking eggshells out of the trashcan and crumbling them up on the floor. I figure if we just call it a Montessori activity, we can ignore the fact that the eggshells were in the trashcan and assume that he’s wiring some good things into his brain. Besides, when he’s done crushing them up, he goes and gets the broom and dustpan and sweeps them up again (which is also so cute that you can pardon the fact that when he tries to empty it out the contents go all over the floor again). Yeah, he didn’t get that clean streak from me. Must be some long-dormant gene coming out or something.

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Our daily walk outside to the playgrounds in our complex pretty much makes his day, as he can chase birds and watch them flutter away, find the random cats that haunt the place and are taken care of by the old ladies, and climb all over and hang from the playground equipment. So far the swings are his favorite.

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Unfortunately, he’s turning into a bit of a daredevil. Tap-dancing on the table is almost a daily occurrence, as is climbing onto things and then hanging dangerously over the edge or riding the back of the couch. I think he just likes hearing me gasp when he’s put himself in a particularly dangerous situation because that always evokes lots of giggles.

And oh yes, did I mention he’s a tease? If anything is kept from him for any reason, like phones or the remotes for the AC, he plots ways to get his hands on them and then giggle madly when we realize what he has. He usually even waves it around in the air to make sure we notice.
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One his most maddening tendencies is sitting down on the sidewalk whenever you try to get him to go somewhere he doesn’t want to go. There are few things more annoying than walking along when suddenly your companion decides he has to nearly pull his arm out of his socket and sit down RIGHT THERE because you didn’t let him push the elevator button and he really really WANTS to push the elevator button. These standoffs usually culminate with me asserting my dominance and carrying him the rest of the way kicking and screaming. I’ll leave it up to your imagination who’s doing (most) of the screaming.

In spite of his more annoying traits, he’s also beginning to show a more affectionate side and loves giving kisses and hugs, usually followed by a headbut or three that nearly break your nose. Then he’ll hand you his favorite blanket and make sure it’s bunched up just right before settling down to sleep.

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I’m sure there’s a lot more cute things he does like babbling nonsense “sentences,” bleating “Maamaa?” every time he wants anything I want to get anything done, and getting upset when we don’t stick to his routine, but I’ll spare you so you don’t think he’s Wonderbaby. For that, you can wait for the Christmas letter in three years when I’m sure he’ll have won a prize in an essay competition, created his own line of specialty toys, and developed a new way to rip books apart without his daddy getting mad at him. And of course he’ll have already read Thucydides and the complete works of Charles Dickens. Who do you think we’re raising anyway?

 

 

 

 

Seven Quick Takes

  1. We finally got wifi this month, after a month of frustrating bureaucracy, and it’s been really nice to feel somewhat connected again and be able to work. I’ve got to admit it’s also nice to be able to watch a movie without finding it in advance and downloading it too (I know, spoiled millennial here!). Netflix here has most cartoons dubbed in Chinese too so occasionally we let JQ watch one for 5-10 minutes in the hopes that he’ll pick up on some Chinese. Easy bilingualism, right? wouldn’t necessarily learn Chinese in five minutes three times a week, but kids’ brains are supposed to be porous so I’m sure he’ll get it in no time.

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    He thinks so too, and is wearing Chinese
  2. Of course, it should help that JQ has started getting babysat for three hours a day, five days a week, while I teach. We’ve asked his babysitter to speak Chinese around him so he’ll pick up on it–but it’s still a little early to tell whether it’s working yet as his go-to word is still “Maamaa” in various forms. He seems to be enjoying it (as in, not screaming the entire time), though he has been a little more clingy when he’s at home. Hopefully it won’t take him too long to adjust.
  3. It’s been interesting living in a basically bilingual country. Kids on the playground switch between English and Chinese without thinking; they study both in school and probably hear both at home. It does lead to some rather thick accents (it’s really hard to figure out what people are saying!), and their English is definitely colored by Chinese-isms (like using “lah” at the end of every sentence). It also makes for some humorous moments, like when the Singaporean man at Bible study gravely started explaining the spirit of peas (he meant peace) and how it could only be explained by the love of the cross.
  4. I haven’t taken any pictures recently because we haven’t really gone anywhere in the last few weeks, but I still have some neat pictures of downtown Singapore that I haven’t shared here.
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    This is the piano that Lang Lang played on….maybe on a visit to Singapore? I’m a bit fuzzy on the details, but it got its own exhibit. Shiny, huh?
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  5. I’m finally figuring out grocery shopping/cooking here and remembering how to cook without an oven. We got spoiled by having an oven in England! Now it’s back to stovetop and toaster oven cooking, although the previous residents of our flat left us their rice cooker, so I’ve been experimenting with one-pot meals to the tune of–chopping up ginger, garlic, and yellow ginger (turmeric), throwing in rice cooker with rice and water and any other vegetables I feel like, putting a fish on top, and cooking away. Jared loves it and it’s awfully easy, though rather uninspired. It also stains my fingers and cutting board a bright yellow so I look somewhat jaundiced on my left hand.
  6. We got our boxes yesterday! So nice to unpack all the things we packed up in England–just like sending a present to ourselves to open in six months. Untitled Now we have a couple pictures to put on our walls and more stuff to clutter up the house with, like books..and…well…more books. UntitledAnd we still have most of our books packed in boxes in the U.S. When we finally move back, I’m not sure I’ll even know how to deal with multiple (as in, ten or so) shelves full of books any more–I’m already envying my future self.
  7. Around where we live, there’s very few white people, so JQ’s hair and skin draw lots of looks and admiring comments. They’ve also prompted several old men to start conversations: “Where you from? You American?”

“Yes, we’re American,” I reply.

“What you think ’bout Trump?  How could so many Americans vote for him?”

“Well, it was a hard election,” I say, evading the question. “Neither candidate was exactly great.”

“Well, I think Bill Clinton’s wife should have won. She’s much more experienced!”

And delivering this zinger, he walked away. Many Singaporeans feel compelled to state their opinions on American politics, and they all think I should have something to do with changing them. Sorry, but democracy doesn’t actually work that way.

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Just Love that Baby

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Since we still don’t have wifi, and I still have no friends here, I’ve had some time to have Grand Thoughts. Mostly, it turns out, on the subject of parenting, since that’s what I’ve been doing by myself for about 12 hours a day. Yes, life is exhilarating right now. Why do you ask?

I know it’s not the Done Thing for people who a) are under 30, b) have only one child who isn’t even two yet, and c) have no track record of reliability for their Grand Thoughts to hold forth on the subject of parenting, and yet, since I have a blog and am feeling the compunction to post since who else am I to talk to about anything serious in my 12-hours-a-day conversation of “Please don’t scream!” and “No! You can’t pull your dirty diapers out of the trashcan!” and “Would you like to play with your cars?”, I am writing about the subject of parenting anyway. Besides, Done Things are overrated.

Some days (ok, most days), I want nothing more than a set of prescriptions to follow which will make my kid behave perfectly and ensure that nothing I do will wreck him for life. At this moment, I think being the parent of a one-year-old is an exercise in futility, as it takes the millionth time of saying “no” for it to finally sink in—and for most things, we haven’t reached that millionth time! But while I may not have attained to much wisdom yet in the few years I’ve been on earth, I have learned this much—there are no set rules of how to deal with people. Ever.

In fact, there might be only one rule, and it’s one my parents repeated often: you can only change yourself. Your attitude, your behavior, your reactions.

But even though this lesson was drilled into me so often, I still assumed there was a right way to parent, a way that would at least almost ensure that a kid would turn out and have good behavior. Just do these things, show off your mad ninja skills when your lovey numbkins is having a tantrum at the supermarket, and everyone will be in awe of your wonderful parenting.

Strangely enough, it wasn’t having a kid that shifted my paradigm on parenting (I mean, I half raised 3 or 4 by the time I was 20, so of course I thought I had it all down), but simply growing up and reading different viewpoints in the process. If you’re strongly attached to an idea, the least you can do is read the other side’s arguments to see if you’re missing out on something crucial.

The first was an article somewhere or other (probably posted on Facebook) about how “parent-ing” is a new concept. We don’t talk about “wifeing” or “husbanding” or “daughtering” (which looks kinda like “slaughtering”) or “sonning”—it’s only this one relationship, between parent and child, which is talked of in this way, like something to do instead of a way to live. (We do have kidding, though, for what it’s worth.)

Thinking about the relationship between parent and child as any other job, like “housekeeping” or “dishwashing” not only begins to make children into things, but also puts more stress on parents to be the perfect parents. If it’s a job like any other, surely it can be done right, like any other job can. There must be a right way to soothe your child’s tantrums and definitely a way to prevent those embarrassing things from ever occurring, most especially in public where we need to exhibit the fact that we have it all together.

The second was an article published in The Atlantic, which, despite its rather misleading headline which seems to guarantee that with this new info from a child psychologist no child will ever again misbehave (sardonic laugh), still puts the focus where it ought to be—on parents’ behavior. It’s not a power struggle or a fight to the death for mastery, although some days it certainly feels like it. Instead, let’s treat this relationship the same way we treat all our other relationships: as a way for us to become better people, to be sanctified.

This is not the easy way out. Yelling comes to me much more easily than calming down and taking time to evaluate my own behavior. As parents, we have to die to ourselves nearly every minute. Babies are so needy, and they never. ever. shut. up, and they’re awfully fond of feeding me half-chewed oranges. My natural response is not one of warm fuzzies.

I can change my response to JQ, but I can’t change his response to me. I need to look at myself first and make sure my attitude is a good attitude, since what I’m modeling is even more important than what I say. (I’m still fairly certain, however, that he’s never had pulling diapers out of the trashcan modeled to him. That came out of his own little head.) I think we lose sight of this in the struggle to do everything right with our children and make their behavior what we want. Unfortunately, yelling at a kid for screaming is like eating a whole chocolate cake when you’ve just finished reading about the dangers of sugar. It feels so good, but you know it’s wrong—and won’t even get you the results you want!

These are things I want to remind myself of later, when JQ is more than a baby who toddles around drunkenly and giggles at being naughty, when I’m feeling overwhelmed and want only to control behavior. Parenthood is a relationship, not a job: our children are more than objects whose behavior we can control. They’re people who we need to love and teach.

My goal for myself, in 2017 and beyond, is to treat JQ with the respect he deserves as a child of God, and to make sure my attitude and behavior are right instead of yelling at him.

So go ahead, eat that half-chewed orange, giggle at that ridiculous thing he’s doing, keep telling him “no” for the millionth time. These are relationships we’re building, with people who are growing up to be men and women. Soon he’ll be all grown up—and then, I’ll finally be an expert on parenting. Too bad you’re reading this now.